Coronavirus: Northern Ireland suspends most TB testing

Defra is facing calls to follow Northern Ireland and suspend TB tests in England amid fears that vets checking cattle for the disease could spread coronavirus.

The pandemic has seen TB tests in Northern Ireland put on hold from 30 March – other than in exceptional circumstances.

But Defra insists tests will continue in England – if they can be done safely – and says farmers who refuse to comply will see herds put under restriction.

See also: How will TB tests work during the coronavirus pandemic?

Beef and dairy producers have expressed worries that allowing vets on to farms to conduct TB tests could put farm staff at risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus.

They include older farmers at higher risk of falling seriously ill from the disease.

Ulster Farmers Union deputy president David Brown said producers would be largely relieved that tests were being suspended in Northern Ireland, although some farmers with herds under restriction or wanting to get livestock tested before summer grazing would be disappointed.

“Many farmers contacted us about farm visits, including those from vets, expressing their worry about the transmission risk it would pose,” said Mr Brown.

“Given the escalating response to this pandemic, we accept it would be irresponsible to allow routine TB testing visits to continue.”

The Animal and Plant Health Agency says it is keeping the situation under constant review for England.

The agency says it recognises the potential challenges faced by farmers, and that adjustments to TB testing instructions may be made as the coronavirus pandemic progresses.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s farm minister, Edwin Poots, has confirmed that all routine farm inspections in the areas of environment, EU-area-based schemes, agri-food and veterinary work will be halted until 30 April at the earliest.

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